Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Don't Disagree With Bill Cosby, But...

I watched a clip from the Rachel Maddow Show where she talks about the possible influence the "Huxtable Effect" had on the election of Barack Obama. The idea is that becuase Cosby presented this fictional family on television that the American public was better able 20-some years later to accept a black man as a leader. I guess this has to do with social trends influencing people's perceptions.

Ms. Maddow interviewed Mr. Cosby and his collaborator Dr. Poussaint. I admire both of these men a lot for what they have achieved and for the fact that they are trying to reach out and educate others. And I agree with them (to an extent) about education and conformity to positive social norms being important to success.


Here's the thing: not everyone, whether from a "normal" home (that is, with two decent parents) or not, is college material. Not everyone is going to be able to fit in with the current standards and offerings of higher education. Some people would be better suited to recieve affordable and viable training in a trade or business. (And I know that it's been said that a basic college education is absolutely required to compete in our "global market." I don't now if I agree with that. There will always be jobs that people can be trained -outside a 4-year college - to do. I think that there will always be labor jobs. If not, then it's not just going to be a problem for non-college educated folks; it's going to be a problem for whichever groups of people who fall short of the very top percentage of any kind of education.)

Let's say that you are a good worker in your field of choice. Let's say that you would be perfectly happy and productive if you could just work your average job, pay your average bills - nothing out of reach - and, if you wanted, be able to send your children on to higher education (if that's what they are suited for). What's wrong with that?

Well, what's wrong with that - or has always been - is that, if you are black (or any other kind of social minority), you were often not even allowed that. Because in most organizations, those in a position to offer those jobs were so many times white people who didn't have your job security as a priority over other white people. Or - even worse - sometimes black people in higher positions were just as much your on-the-job enemy as a white person. (These black people probably feel like you should have gone to college like they wanted to and did.)

It's all about the way people feel. Someone sees a white person who is content to toil away for years at a low- or middle-level job is seeing someone "hardworking," and "reliable," They say that people like that are the "backbone" of America. But if you see a black person in the same position, you hear things about their lack of "ambition," lack of education. Again - it's all about the way people feel. We all tend to base our actions on our feelings.

If you stop and think about it, you will probably come to realize that there are a lot of people who don't yearn for a big office to work in, business cards with a nice title printed on, or the ability to talk expense accounts and corporate travel. There are a lot of people who don't care to have a large or expensive home, the latest and greatest automobile. There are a lot of people who would just like to work, feed themselves and their family, have reliable transportation, be able to go to a doctor when needed, come home, enjoy their family time, and go to sleep at night knowing that life as they know it is fairly secure. There are a lot of people who don't sit around thinking about how to live off the government without working.

See, so many people don't want anything but to have a place in life and in their society. What's that old saying? About happiness being "something to do, something to love and something to hope for?" Well, we don't all aim to do grand things or love the same people as others, and we don't all hope for the biggest and brightest. Some of us have simpler joys and hopes.

I guess I'm on a rant because whenever one group or another talk about success, they talk about it only from their perspective.

So, Mr. Cosby, I never went to college, but I (and so many other who are currently in despair) would be a success if you and the rest of society appreciated my definition. You and I are not that different in our core beliefs about human nature and responsibility. I don't have out-of-wedlock children. I worked everyday on a job that I was good at. I paid my bills and didn't live "above my means." When my nieces needed to be cared for (with no help from the State or Government), my sister, mother and I took care of them. We didn't do it because of anything other than the fact that this is what family meant to us. When my mother got sick, my sister and I took care of her (and, by the way, so did those nieces - because it's what they learned at home). When times got tough, we tightened up and stuck together. We didn't steal, lie or cheat. We didn't ask the government for any undue help - unless my mother's SSI and other benefites of the elderly, like home weatherization counts.

And you know what happened when my employer was bought out by another company? Even though I was a good worker (the better of two in my position if you looked at performance reviews and other accounts), I was the one demoted down. The other worker, a white male - who had iffy reviews at times and much less positive feedback from co-workers - was kept on in the same position and even promoted soon after.

So maybe when we talk about "bettering" ourselves, we need to address bettering the society we live in. If it helps to make the point about our society, let me tell you something interesting: I got sick a few weeks ago. Being single, child-less and uninsured, I could not afford health care. One agency I called for help explained to me that if I had a dependent child or if I was receiving "benefits" (translation: "welfare benefits"), I would be eligible for some kinds of programs to help pay for a clinic/doctor visit. 

You can make certain arguments for certain people. You can always say that some people are lazy, immoral or criminal or that they simply lack a sense of conformity to polite society. But what do you say about the rest of us? What is offered for the rest of us? I never thought it should happen that having children out of wedlock or collecting welfare would be to my advantage when I needed help to see a doctor. But maybe that's just me.


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